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How to Save Money When Stocking Your Medicine Cabinet

Tylenol, Cold Medication

 (Reuters)

Everyday medications to keep yourself and your family healthy can be a major drain on your wallet.  Money-saving expert Teri Gault, CEO and founder of TheGroceryGame.com, shared her tips on how to stock your medicine cabinet for a fraction of the normal cost.

Gault’s website examines deals – both advertised and unadvertised – at grocery stores and drugstores around the country and puts out weekly lists that direct consumers toward the cheapest prices.

“A good sale is half off, or 75 percent off when you combine different deals,” Gault advised.  “You can even get some things for free.”

“If you wait until you’re out of a certain medication and you need it, you’re going to walk into the store and pay for it full price.  It just bugs you when you know you can get a $7 bottle of Nyquil for $3 or less.”

- Teri Gault

These are the deals Gault looks out for herself when she purchases her year-round medicine cabinet essentials, which include pain relievers, allergy medicines/congestion relief, cough syrup, night-time cold medicine, Band-Aids and antibiotic ointment.

“When you get sick, especially at night, you do not want to go out and pick up medicine,” Gault said.  “You want to be able to take care of yourself quickly.”

While people do express concerns about stocking up their medicine cabinet and inadvertently taking drugs past the expiration date, Gault recommended an easy prevention measure.

“What I always say is, grab a permanent maker, find the expiration date on the bottle, and mark it really big,” Gault said.  “That way, you know you’re not going to hurt yourself.”

Plus, she added, “it’s good to stock up, because if you wait until you’re out of a certain medication and you need it, you’re going to walk into the store and pay for it full price.  It just bugs you when you know you can get a $7 bottle of Nyquil for $3 or less.”

According to Gault, you never have to buy any over-the-counter medications at full price if you follow a few smart shopping rules.  Here are her top five rules for buying medicine cheaply:

1.  Generic supermarket or drugstore brands don’t beat warehouse brands in terms of price.

“Don’t think generic store brands are always the cheapest,” Gault said. “Warehouse prices usually beat them.”

2.  Combining deals on name-brand drugs at supermarkets or drugstores can match, even beat, warehouse prices.

Gault is a big proponent of a practice she calls “deal-stacking,” which means combining all available sales, coupons and register rewards to reduce medicine prices to almost nothing.  

“Here’s how you get things for free: Combine a sale, with a coupon from the newspaper and a drugstore care card, which gives you money back at the register, on your purchases,” Gault said.  “You can get drugs like Bayer and aspirin for really cheap.”

Gault said drugstores typically offer more deal-stacking opportunities than grocery stores - especially when taking into account register rewards available through most national drugstore chains like CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid.

3. Save your coupons.

For the best deal, hold onto your coupons until the items you want go on sale, Gault explained. Don’t just assume you have to use them the week they come out.

Grocery stores usually cycle through sales on all their items over a 10-12 week period, while drugstores cycle through sales every four weeks – making it possible to gather all the medicines you and your family need over the course of a single month.  

And there’s no need to ever pay full price on any single one of those medications, Gault added.  Just don’t expect to find all the items you need on sale in a single week.

“Play your coupons like a card game,” she said. “That’s how you fill your medicine cabinet for almost nothing, or at least 80 percent off.”

4. Use coupons on smaller packages.

For example, if you have a $2 coupon, and a small bottle of medicine is on sale for $1.99, then you can get it for free – as opposed to merely saving two-dollars on a larger bottle that may expire before you use it all.  

“This works especially well for really specific items like children’s fever reducers,” Gault said.

While drugstores are better for deal-stacking, individual coupon deals like this – getting one small item for next-to-nothing, or even free – are more typical of grocery stores.

“You have major deal-stacking opportunities at drugstores, and little free deals at supermarkets,” Gault said.

5. Look for online coupons – but be careful.

“There are two things to watch out for with online coupons,” Gault said.  “One, sometimes online coupons aren’t for as much value as coupons in the newspaper.  Two, sometimes the online coupons will supersede a coupon that is worth more value in the newspaper.”

Online coupons are only good if there is not a paper coupon out there that is better, she added.